Why We Need the DREAM Act and What You Can Do: Steve Li’s Story

Steve Li, 20, a nursing student and on-campus leader, was to be separated from his family and deported to Peru earlier this month after discovering that he is an undocumented immigrant.

I’m way late on this story, but thankfully there are others in the APIA blogosphere who have covered it well.

Here in my home turf of Arizona, a nursing student from California named Steve Li was detained in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility for two months, pending deportation. It turns out that Li, unbeknownst to him, was an illegal immigrant. Li’s family left China in protest of China’s “One Child Policy”. After being denied political asylum in the States, the family moved to Peru.

When Li was twelve years old, his family brought him to the United States from Peru without documentation. He was raised in California, with no knowledge of his illegal status. However, following an ICE raid, ICE officials initiated deportation proceedings against Li and his family. Li was to be deported to Peru, a country where he would be separated from friends and family, and where he has no roots; by contrast, his family is to be deported to China.

Li spent two months in an ICE deportation center in Arizona as community leaders rallied on his behalf. Last Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a rare “private bill of support” halting Li’s deportation proceedings temporarily, so that the DREAM Act, which is being introduced separately by the Democrats in the current Legislative session, can be voted upon.

I decided to introduce a private bill on Steve’s behalf because I believe his removal would be unjust before the Senate gets a chance to vote on the DREAM Act,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Last week, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid stated that they intended to bring the DREAM Act to a vote on November 29.

Currently, Steve Li has been released from Arizona’s ICE detention facilities, and is scheduled for a press conference tomorrow to thank all the leaders who rallied in his support for the last two months. However, presumably, if the DREAM Act fails later this month, Li’s deportation proceedings will proceed, and he will be sent to Peru by ICE officials.

Steve Li’s case is a single — but by no means the only — example of why the DREAM Act is critical. There are countless young people who are not aware of their immigration status, and who are poised to make themselves into contributing, hard-working, and productive members of this society. America is the land of opportunity, built upon the ideal that this land is a place where all people, regardless of the circumstances of their birth and their background, can work to better themselves. At the base of the Statue of Liberty, the “New Colossus” sonnet proclaims: “From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome.” When did this country lose sight of those principles?

Steve Li wants to be a nurse. He wants to dedicate his life to helping others. What does it say about America if we would turn a person like that away? And, worse still, that we would do so by depositing him on the sidewalk of a foreign country where he has no family, no friends, no resources, and no life?

The DREAM Act gives young people who discover that they are illegal immigrants a way to become some of the best of America. The DREAM Act promises a pathway to citizenship if these young people enroll in higher education or commit themselves to military service — in short, to give back to America more than we expect native-born American citizens to do. And, for what it’s worth, these youth want to do it.

Act Now! The DREAM Act needs your help to be passed later this month. Last time the DREAM Act was considered, it was included as part of a Department of Defense bill, and still the Republicans voted in a bloc to defeat it. This time around, we need to strongly lobby Republican senators, and gain their support in order to pass the DREAM Act. The Wonk Room has a break-down of Republican senators who may vote to support the DREAM Act… if they face sufficient constituent pressure to vote in favour of this bill.

Please join me in sending a letter in support of the DREAM Act to the following Republican senators:

Cross-posted: Blog for Arizona

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